21 Century Skills


Our students will have to develop a strong set of skills and understandings to prepare for life in this 21st century and to help them succeed in a complex, global, technology-rich society that overflows with evolving information, conflicting messages and complex challenges.  We must deliberately build these skills into our school program to prepare our students for success.


The 21 Century Learner

Portrait of a 21 Century Learner


1. Digital-Age Literacy

As society changes, the skills needed to navigate the complexities of life also change. In the early 1900s, a person who had acquired simple reading, writing, and calculating skills was considered literate. Only in recent years has the public education system expected all students to build on those basics, developing a broader range of literacies (ICT Literacy Panel report, 2002). Success in the 21st century makes it critical that students also attain proficiency in science, technology, and culture, as well as gain a thorough understanding of information in all its forms.  Digital-Age Literacy includes:

  • Basic Literacy: Language proficiency and numeracy at levels necessary to function on the job and in society to achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential in this Digital Age.
  • Scientific Literacy: Knowledge and understanding of the scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision-making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity
  • Economic Literacy: The ability to identify economic problems, alternatives, costs, and benefits; analyze the incentives at work in economic situations; examine the consequences of changes in economic conditions and public policies; collect and organize economic evidence; and weigh costs against benefits.
  • Technological Literacy: Knowledge about what technology is, how it works, what purposes it can serve, and how it can be used efficiently and effectively to achieve specific goals
  • Visual Literacy: The ability to interpret, use, appreciate, and create images and video using both conventional and 21st century media in ways that advance thinking, decision-making, communication, and learning
  • Information Literacy: The ability to evaluate information across a range of media; recognize when information is needed; locate, synthesize, and use information effectively; and accomplish these functions using technology, communication networks, and electronic resources
  • Multicultural Literacy: The ability to understand and appreciate the similarities and differences in the customs, values, and beliefs of one’s own culture and the cultures of others
  • Global Awareness: The recognition and understanding of interrelationships among international organizations, nation-states, public and private economic entities, sociocultural groups, and individuals across the globe

2. Inventive Thinking

Experts agree: As technology becomes more prevalent in our everyday lives, cognitive skills become increasingly critical. “In effect, because technology makes the simple tasks easier, it places a greater burden on higher-level skills” (ICT Literacy Panel, 2002: p. 6). The National Research Council’s Committee on Information Technology Literacy defines intellectual capabilities as “one’s ability to apply information technology in complex and sustained situations and to understand the consequences of doing so” (1999: online, Chapter 2.2). These capabilities are “life skills” formulated in the context of Digital-Age technologies. Inventive Thinking is comprised of the following “life skills”:

  • Adaptability/Managing Complexity: The ability to modify one’s thinking, attitude, or behavior to be better suited to current or future environments, as well as the ability to handle multiple goals, tasks, and inputs, while understanding and adhering to constraints of time, resources, and systems (e.g., organizational, technological)
  • Self-Direction: The ability to set goals related to learning, plan for the achievement of those goals, independently manage time and effort, and independently assess the quality of learning and any products that result from the learning experience
  • Curiosity: The desire to know or a spark of interest that leads to inquiry
  • Creativity: The act of bringing something into existence that is genuinely new and original, whether personally (original only to the individual) or culturally (where the work adds significantly to a domain of culture as recognized by experts)
  • Risk-taking: The willingness to make mistakes, advocate unconventional or unpopular positions, or tackle extremely challenging problems without obvious solutions, such that one’s personal growth, integrity, or accomplishments are enhanced
  • Higher-Order Thinking and Sound Reasoning: Include the cognitive processes of analysis, comparison, inference/interpretation, evaluation, and synthesis applied to a range of academic domains and problem-solving contexts

3. Effective Communication

According to the 21st Century Literacy Summit, “information and communications technologies are raising the bar on the competencies needed to succeed in the 21st century” (2002; p. 4). Both researchers and the business community agree: effective communication skills are essential for success in today’s knowledge-based society. The 1991 SCANS report, for example, lists the following as necessary for success in this area: participating in a team, teaching others new skills, serving clients/customers, exercising leadership, negotiating and working with diverse groups of people. Information technology can play a facilitative role in effective communication, but emerging technologies can also present ethical dilemmas. As information and communication technologies become more pervasive in society, citizens will need to manage the impact on their social, personal, professional, and civic lives.  Effective Communication involves:

  • Personal Responsibility: Depth and currency of knowledge about legal and ethical issues related to technology, combined with one’s ability to apply this knowledge to achieve balance, integrity, and quality of life as a citizen, a family and community member, a learner, and a worker
  • Interpersonal Skills: The ability to read and manage the emotions, motivations, and behaviors of oneself and others during social interactions or in a social-interactive context
  • Teaming and Collaboration: Cooperative interaction between two or more individuals working together to solve problems, create novel products, or learn and master content
  • Social and Civic Responsibility: The ability to manage technology and govern its use in a way that promotes public good and protects society, the environment, and democratic ideals
  • Interactive Communication: The generation of meaning through exchanges using a range of contemporary tools, transmissions, and processes

4. High Productivity

High Productivity is currently not a high-stakes focus of schools, yet the skills involved in this cluster often determine whether a person succeeds or fails in the workforce:

  • Prioritizing, Planning, and Managing for Results: The ability to organize to efficiently achieve the goals of a specific project or problem
  • Effective Use of Real-World Tools: Effective use of these tools – the hardware, software, networking, and peripheral devices used by Information Technology (IT) workers to accomplish 21st century work – means using these tools to communicate, collaborate, solve problems, and accomplish tasks
  • Ability to Produce Relevant, High-Quality Products: Intellectual, informational, or material products that serve authentic purposes and occur as a result of students using real-world tools to solve or communicate about real-world problems.  These products include persuasive communications in any media (print, video, the Web, verbal presentation), synthesis of resources into more usable forms (databases, graphics, simulations), or refinement of questions that build upon what is known to advance one’s own and others’ understanding
Document Actions